Amherst library trustees approve agreement

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2016 2:19:53 AM

AMHERST – Trustees for the Jones Library Thursday unanimously approved an agreement that would allow the Jones Library to expand onto property currently owned by the neighboring Amherst Historical Society.

This memorandum of understanding anticipates that a portion of the property at 67 Amity St., on which the Strong House museum sits, will be acquired by the library for its building project at 43 Amity St.

The agreement calls for good-faith negotiations before a payment is made for any land acquired.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said no financial terms have yet been discussed.

“We haven’t started negotiating that piece yet,” Sharry said.

Sharry said half of the land acquisition cost could be covered by a Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners grant.

“None of this will happen if we don’t get a construction grant from the MBLC,” Sharry said, observing that the project also depends on approvals of spending by Town Meeting.

The agreement still must be signed by representatives from the historical society and the town of Amherst. The historical society board meets Tuesday, with the Select Board expected to take a vote later in March, Sharry said.

Even though a memorandum is in place, it does not commit trustees to a purchase or Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, the company hired, to develop a plan using the property, said library trustees president Austin Sarat.

The agreement suggests that there could be a physical connection between the library and the Strong House, but Sharry said this probably would not be part of the building plan.

Still, the neighboring buildings could share climate-controlled archive storage space and processing areas for historic artifacts.

How soon any sale would happen is unclear, as the historical society has to go through a legal process to change the terms of the will by which it was bequeathed the Strong House. The society is seeking ways to pay the $18,000 in legal fees after the Community Preservation Act Committee earlier this week rejected this proposal.

In addition to the agreement, trustees are unanimously supporting an appeal from the historical society directors that will ask the Planning Board to bring a zoning change to a special Town Meeting this spring. That would change the zoning for the Strong House museum property from general residence to general business.

Library trustee Tamson Ely said this is needed to make sure that the museum property still conforms with town zoning bylaws if any land is bought.

Should the Strong House lot lose even a sliver of land, that would cause the residential lot to be in violation of town zoning, she said. “We cannot make them non-conforming,” Ely said.

Sharry said the advice from the town’s Planning Department is to rezone the entire Strong House property to general business zoning.

One other provision in the agreement addresses the historic garden at the Strong House. “Should the Historical Society’s 18th-century garden be affected by new construction, it will be relocated by the Historical Society,” the agreement reads.

This potential impact on that garden, as well as the Kinsey Memorial Garden in the back yard of the library, raised red flags for several members of the public who attended the meeting.

Sherry Wilson, a 30-year-member of the Garden Club of Amherst, read a statement from the club about the importance of preserving green space downtown.

“We urge the trustees to consider only expansion plans that respect the significance of the 18th-century and the Kinsey gardens,” Wilson said.

Wilson said there is a feeling that town and library officials do not fully understand this importance.

Tevis Kimball, former head of special collections at the Jones, said she has long appreciated both gardens. “The two are very powerful together,” Kimball said.

Sarat said trustees are considering aspects both inside and outside thelibrary and that the building design subcommittee, which next meets March 24, is working with the architect to minimize disruptions to its property.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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